The Girl Who Ran: Frances Poletti, Kristina Yee, and Susanna Chapman

Book: The Girl Who Ran: Bobbi Gibb, the First Woman to Run the Boston Marathon
Author: Frances Poletti & Kristina Yee
Illustrator: Susanna Chapman
Pages: 48
Age Range: 4-8

GirlWhoRanThe Girl Who Ran recounts the true story of Bobbi Gibb, who from childhood loved running. When Bobbi learned about The Boston Marathon she wanted to run. But in her day (the 60's), women weren't allowed to run marathons. People believed that they weren't strong enough, and would injure themselves. So, after training on her own, running across the country and camping at night, Bobbi dressed up like a man and successfully completed the 1966 Boston Marathon. Bobbi's story definitely held my interest. 

I did feel like the book could have provided a bit more detail to Bobbi's story. What year was Bobbi born? How old was she when she ran the marathon? Where did she grow up? But I suppose it's not difficult for young readers who are inspired by Bobbi's story to look her up.  And this is more a book describing one thing about someone's history, rather than a full-fledged biography. Certainly it is an inspiring story. Here's a girl who loved doing something, was told "no" repeatedly, including by her parents, and found a way to do it anyway. 

In the book's presentation, all of the men around her who realized that she was a woman during the race were supportive, as were spectators along the route. While I found myself a tad skeptical of the universal support once she was already in the race (in contrast to the universal condemnation of the idea prior to the race), I think that this upbeat portrayal will encourage young readers. I liked that the authors, Frances Poletti and Kristina Yee, made it clear that finishing the race was difficult for Bobbi, but that she gritted it out.

Their writing style is a mix of narrative text, words from the people around her, and the occasional poetic couplet. The book's formatting keeps these three methods distinct. Like this, on one page spread:

"The cheers were a roar. And Bobbi needed it. The ground was hard, her new shoes were stiff, and the final hill was still ahead.

But she couldn't stop now, though she ached and perspired,
and the world whooshed by, like the wind in the fire."

This text is shown at the bottom of the pages, while near the top, above the picture of Bobbi running, the words from the bystanders are shown in various fonts: "It's a girl!" "Go, girl, go!", etc. Different fonts for different voices. My seven-year-old, when I read this with her, will want to read every one of those aloud herself.

The poetic couplets are always in italics, and repeat the "like the wind in the fire" refrain. It's a bit unconventional, this mix of narration, exhortations, and poetry, but it worked for me. And I quite liked Susanna Chapman's illustrations. When Bobbi runs, we see a kind of streamer trail, in red, yellow and orange, a visual representation of her joy in running. There's a fold-out spread showing when she crosses the finish line of the marathon, with plenty of white space, and which adds to the epic feel of Bobbi's accomplishment. 

The Girl Who Ran is the very prototype of inspirational nonfiction picture book. It leaves the reader feeling happy. The fact that it's about a single aspect of the protagonist's life, rather than a chronicle of her full history, could make The Girl Who Ran work for those who are not such fans of biography, but just want a good story. Despite the two authors and separate illustrator, and the multiple narrative methods, the whole package works seamlessly together. The Girl Who Ran is a book that certainly belongs in libraries. It would also make a good classroom read-aloud for first or second graders, perhaps in the week prior to the school fitness run. I look forward to reading this with my daughter. Recommended!

Publisher: Compendium 
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Growing Bookworms Newsletter: July 12: Keeping a Diary and Selecting Comfort Reads

JRBPlogo-smallToday, I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on growing joyful learners, mainly bookworms, but also mathematicians and learners of all types. The newsletter is sent out every two to three weeks.

Newsletter Update:  In this relatively brief issue I have four book reviews (picture books through middle grade/middle school) and one post with my daughter's latest literacy milestone (keeping a diary). I also have two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I finished three adult novels.  I read/listened to: 

AdventurersGuildI'm currently reading The Adventurers Guild by Zack Loran Clark and Nick Eliopulos and listening to Lockdown by Laurie R. King. My daughter and I are still reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire together, as we will be for a while. You can find her 2017 reading list here. I've noticed that her comfort reading these days consists primarily of Jarrett Krosoczka's Lunch Lady graphic novels. She had a tiring couple of days of sporting and social events this weekend, and when she disappeared for a while I thought she might be sleeping. But no. She came back down having read (for at least the fifth time each) the last two Lunch Lady books. 

Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms. Here's to lots more summer reading!

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid: Kara LaReau + Matt Myers

Book: The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid
Author: Kara LaReau
Illustrator: Matt Myers
Pages: 96
Age Range: 6-9

RatsosNotAfraidThe Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid is the sequel to The Infamous Ratsos (reviewed here), in what I hope will be a continuing early reader/early chapter book series by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Matt Myers.  Brothers Louie and Ralphie live with their dad, Big Lou, and the memory of their deceased mother. In this book, the brothers decide to clean up a vacant lot in their neighborhood so that they can set up carnival-style arcade games for their friends. In the course of the project, both brothers have to overcome fears. For Louie, it's a fear of ghosts in the ramshackle house next to the vacant lot. For Ralphie, there's fear of being laughed at by his peers (over an incident with a girl). Luckily, the boys get solid advice from their father that helps along the way.

Can I just say, as a parent, that I love Big Lou? He's a good example to his boys, in a matter-of-fact way. Like when Ralphie talks about a girl in his class who stinks (images reveal her to be a skunk), so that no one has even gone near her. Big Lou says: "Then how do you know she stinks?" That's all, then he drops it. Then when Ralphie claims not to be afraid of anything, he says: "Really? I'm afraid of lots of things." Only when the boys ask how he copes does he say: "By reminding myself that I'm the boss of me, not my fears." All this while he's plying them with spaghetti and meatballs. He's this big, tough guy, but gives his boys the tools that they need. It's nicely done. 

The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid is what I would characterize as a very early chapter book. There are 10 short chapters in 96 pages, with full or partial page illustrations every couple of pages. The line spacing is wide, the sentences are mostly brief, and there is plenty of dialog to keep things moving. Here's a snippet, to give you a feel:

"Chad's stomach growls. "We'd better be done soon. It's almost dinnertime," he says. The Ratsos used to think Chad was mean, until they realized he gets cranky when he's hungry, which is almost all the time.

"Never fear," says Ralphie. "I brought emergency snacks for Carl."" (Page 15, ARC)

I feel like the formatting and vocabulary of the book overall keeps it accessible to very new readers, while the storyline itself retains appeal for slightly older kids (say first and second graders). There's a lovely vibe of kids playing unsupervised together in a neighborhood that kids and adults will find appealing. There's also a whole elementary school dynamic of kids being teased about "kissing in a tree", and the deep embarrassment that comes from being laughed at. But with a soft touch. 

Myers' illustrations lend humor to the story, and capture a lower income urban setting that is too rare in children's books (brick apartment buildings in the background with lines of laundry stretching between them, various junk in the vacant lot, etc.). We see Louie's terror when he approaches the possibly haunted house, as wavy lines show him shaking. And when Ralphie stands up on a bench at school and yells out a brave declaration, any reader will smile at the image. 

Although my daughter has moved on to reading longer, more dense books than The Infamous Ratsos Are Not Afraid, I'm going to give it to her anyway. I think she'll appreciate the central lesson about not giving into your fears, as well as less direct examples in the book of doing the right thing. All set against a backdrop of kids playing and working together on a fun project. What is not to love about that? Highly recommended, and well worth purchasing for libraries serving new readers. 

Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick) 
Publication Date: September 12, 2017
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Literacy Milestone: Keeping a Diary

LiteracyMilestoneAKnowing that my daughter enjoys writing, I recently picked up a 10-pack of bound composition books for her from Costco. To my surprise, she turned one of them into her first diary (others are being used to document her trips as well as her plans for the future). She was apparently inspired by the Owl Diaries series, part of Scholastic's Branches line of early chapter books, which are written in diary/notebook novel format. The cover actually lists the book as her own "Owl Dire". [I do recommend this series - it is super-cute, and my daughter has gobbled them down this summer.]

BaxterIsMissingHer first set of diary entries was written over the weekend before July 4th, when she spent three nights at our friends' house while my husband and I were out of town. On our return, I was quite pleased to be able to learn more about her weekend by reading the diary (with her permission). Her spelling remains a bit creative, but she is certainly literate enough at this point to get the basics across. She's enthusiastic, using exclamation points to highlight the most exciting moments. She also writes to the diary, as in "Dear Dire, How are you?". It's very fun!  

After the weekend she missed a couple of days because of the July 4th festivities. When she realized this, she had to take the diary with her in the car while we were running errands, so that she could catch up. She started worrying about how difficult it would be to catch up if she were to miss more than a couple of days. [Oh, does she ever take after her father.] I assured her that it's not necessary to write in the diary every single day. She can just write about days that are interesting. If she's going to keep a diary, I want it to be fun for her, not turn into some sort of stressful task. 

My guess is that the diary will soon fall by the wayside for now. But in the meantime it's fun for her, enlightening for me, and a great way to keep up her writing skills. Best of all, if we can manage to keep the diary, she is going to LOVE reading it when she's an adult. A win all around! 

I don't remember having a diary when I was as young as seven, but I did keep one in high school and college. That one, of course, I did not let other people read. How about all of you, my book-loving friends? Did you keep diaries when you were young? 

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: July 7: Board Books, Picture Books and Reading Aloud

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this relatively light week include #audiobooks, #BookADay, #BookList, #Cybils, #GraphicNovels, #GrowingBookworms, #KidLitCon, #ReadAloud, #SummerReading, board books, library storytime, literacy, reading, and writing. Wishing you relaxing summer reading this weekend!

Book Lists

QuantumPhysics. calls 2017 The Year of the , w/ of notable titles | was early to the trend

100 Children's Audiobook Deals for Summer 2017 | list from sale | Some true bargains 

26 Wonderful Books for Kids Celebrating Summer (ages 4-12), from  https://t.co/T3bJHEiDEr

ALA 2017 highlights: coming this summer & fall (ages 8-14), from

Diversity + Gender

PottymouthBooks Will Be Books: Enough With Gendered Children’s Lit | | Why market just to boys? https://t.co/yWjY2ymEUD

"Dear fellow white Christian writers," | chimes in on by imagining NOT being the default https://t.co/1GEFoCWL60 

 Growing Bookworms

5 Ways to Help Your Child Read More, tips from  

10 Reasons You Should to Big Kids, Too | Introducing genres, discussing issues + more https://t.co/uS80sWnanY

HackingLiteracyNo excuses: How can build a culture of this year - at Hack Learning https://t.co/QRSahwKMdx

Kidlitosphere

Call for Presenters: 2017, Nov. 3-4 in Hershey, PA | encourages bloggers to attend  

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Discussion on Starting vs. Finishing Books | Me, I abandon more books every year https://t.co/tdwtQBTEf4 

Schools and Libraries

& The Power of Shared Stories by  

Early At Its Finest: shares piece, positive effects of storytime on kids https://t.co/8T81Qc1yW4

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


The Too-Scary Story: Bethanie Deeney Murguia

Book: The Too-Scary Story
Author: Bethanie Deeney Murguia
Pages: 40
Age Range: 4-8

Too-ScaryStoryThe Too-Scary Story by Bethanie Deeney Murguia is about a father telling a bedtime story to his young son and slightly less young daughter. The daughter, Grace, presses for the story to be scarier. The son, Walter, wants it to be less scary. So the father has to keep switching back and forth, leading into something scary and then pulling back and offering something more cozy instead. Like this:

"Beyond the fireflies,
deep in the bushes, crept all kinds of ...

creatures.

"I can hear them all breathing," whispers Grace.

"Too scary!" says Walter.

Don't worry.
Those creatures were just settling into bed for the night."

Here we see a picture of Walter and Grace petting safe, sleepy creatures like rabbits, though their Toto-like dog still looks a bit scared. Only late in the book do both kids have the chance to be scared. And brave. As with all of the best bedtime stories, The Too-Scary Story ends with the kids cozily in bed. 

This is a fun book to read aloud, with lots of changes in tone, communicated through both the fonts and the illustrations. In the above example, "creatures" is in large, bold font, while the "Don't worry" font is smaller and less intimidating. The font used for Papa's story is different from the font used for the dialogue with the kids, making it easier for the adult reader to use a special, spooky voice for the story within the story. 

I like that the family is brown-skinned (exact ethnicity vague, though we know the dad is "Papa" instead of "Daddy"). I also like that the brother and sister share a room, with twin beds, something you don't always see in books these days, and that it's Papa who is reading to them. There's a well-stocked bookshelf in their room, and, at the end, a jar of fireflies. 

The Too-Scary Story captures the difficulty inherent in creating a bedtime story for kids of two different ages. It celebrates family, and fathers in particular. It provides a lovely mix of scary (with dark palette to match) and cozy (fireflies!). It's different in style from Murguia's other picture books (e.g. Zoe Gets Ready and sequels), but with the same understanding of sibling relationships. And, if anything, this new book is more fun to read aloud. Recommended for anyone looking for a new bedtime book! 

Publisher:  Arthur A. Levine Books (@Scholastic
Publication Date: June 27, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Lights, Camera, Middle School: Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

Book: Lights, Camera, Middle School! (Babymouse: Tales from the Locker, Book 1)
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
Illustrator: Matthew Holm
Pages: 208
Age Range: 8-12

BabymouseLockerLights, Camera, Middle School! is the first title of a new novel / notebook novel / graphic novel hybrid series by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm featuring Babymouse, now in middle school. Although Babymouse is in middle school, I think that readers of this series will begin in elementary school. My seven-year-old, who is out of town with my husband, asked me to read it to her over the phone. I declined. But I'm certain she'll read it when she can. 

Anyway, Lights, Camera, Middle School! begins as Babymouse is acclimating to middle school. She has a few friends (especially BFF Wilson) from elementary school, but she's struggling to adjust to things like the cafeteria, and the quest for popularity. She wants fame, but she also wants to be herself and to be appreciated. She still has issues with monsters in her locker, and being on time for class. When it comes time to sign up for some sort of Club, Babymouse decides on film club. She ends up the director of the student film (an epic saga), and finds the experience to be challenging but ultimately character-building. 

Here are a couple of snippets:

"If this was a monster movie, Felicia would be a Zombie. At middle school, Zombies traveled in packs and dressed the same. Instead of hunting brains, they wanted stuff: whatever was cool and "in." It could be wedge sandals or ruffled scarves or sparkly lip gloss. They just had to have it." (Page 5)

This is accompanied by a sketch of four zombies in wedge sandals moaning "STUUUFFFFFFF!!!!" and the like. 

Also:

"Chapter 2: Laws of the Jungle Cafeteria

The hardest subject in middle school wasn't science or social studies or literature. 

It was friendship.

And there was no textbook or helpful study guide. In elementary school, if kids didn't like you, they were just flat-out mean. But here, figuring out who your friends were was harder than a quadratic equation.

And I had a failing grade."

Graphic elements in the book range from full-page, multi-panel comic to full-page illustrations to small cartoon-like images included with the text (like a muffin with a face crying "ButI'm so lovable!" after the movie's star rejects muffins in favor of fresh croissants. The characters from the Babymouse graphic novels have grow up ever-so-slightly. Babymouse is taller and thinner, but otherwise looks (and acts) pretty much the way kids will expect. 

The text has plenty of dialog, short paragraphs, and bolding, along with the occasional French phrase, making it a nice transition book for kids who are not excited about reading something too text-dense. There’s a cute product placement for the Holm siblings’ Squish series (which Babymouse’s little brother Squeak enjoys). Fans of the Squish books will get a kick out of it. Although there's no interior color, there are cute heart and star symbols providing within-chapter section breaks. There are also occasional lists and other written supporting materials, in notebook novel style.

In short, you have the familiar and lovable characters from the long-running Babymouse early graphic novel series experiencing slightly more grown-up problems now that they are in middle school, and with the addition of some narrative and notebook novel-style text. If this isn't the perfect, seamless next step for fans who are ready to progress from the quick graphic novel reads, then I don't know what is.Highly recommended, and a must-purchase for libraries serving middle grade and younger middle school readers.

I wonder if we'll ever progress to reading about Babymouse in high school...  

Publisher: Random House (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: July 4, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Links I Shared on Twitter this Week: June 30: Read-Aloud Books, Everyday Diversity + #KidLitCon

TwitterLinksHere are highlights from the links that I shared on Twitter this week @JensBookPage. Topics this week include #BookLists, #DiverseBooks, #KidLitCon, #STEM, #SummerReading, Little Free Libraries, love of reading, reading levels, schools, summer slide, #ReadAloud, #kidlit, #YA, audiobooks, parenting, and student engagement.

Book Lists

DivaAndFleaRead-Aloud Chapter Books for Kindergarteners (Month by Month), from  

Chapter Books for 1st Graders (Month by Month), a from

75 Mighty Girl Books for Tweens' /  https://t.co/IhOG32CdWw

10 Cool Middle Grade Adventures for Kids Not Quite Ready for |  https://t.co/mU8tthc16b

Diversity

Everyday + Beginning Readers | mirrors show diverse characters in familiar settings | Gigi Pagliarulo  

Events + Programs

JetBlue + Reprise program: book vending machines, PSAs, + more https://t.co/SnQdaXTtFc 

Growing Bookworms

SerafinaSplinteredHeartWhy Book Series Are Best For Kids' (they just keep reading) + rec for https://t.co/w8A3B3MVJH

6 Easy Ways to Get Kids Outside and This Summer | | Picnics, walks + more https://t.co/gcb19mcVgO

Being Creative With Oral for Young Readers, making it enjoyable + fun

You want kids to get excited and engage with books? Give them a book that they want to read"  https://t.co/0ehC3O5e1b

Kidlitosphere
KidlitconLogo2017-SquareWithHeaderHey there + bloggers, the Call for Presenters for 2017 is live | Please RT 

Attention + bloggers: Have You Saved the Date for 2017? 11/3-4 in Hershey, PA

On Reading, Writing, Blogging, and Publishing

Nice introduction to a – meeting the neighbors in A Field Trip Life's beach community  

Power of Audiobooks | likes recent commercials promoting awesome  https://t.co/koRbM3hyvo

Parenting 

MadLibs18 Great Games for Car Trips |  

New Parents, The Public Has Got Your Back (, , story hour + more) by Dana Staves  https://t.co/crgf9xYfoe

Schools and Libraries

What teens want from their | new report shares survey results + makes recommendations https://t.co/TlLLj0mnQa

Misinterpreting the : Why We're Doing Students a Disservice

"if a program (eg AR) harms the love of a for a child, question the program, not the child"  https://t.co/sO6nNdf1sE

STEM

A Summer of : 25 Science Kits for Independent Exploration selected by  

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


Emily and the Spellstone: Michael Rubens

Book: Emily and the Spellstone
Author: Michael Rubens
Pages: 288
Age Range: 9-12

EmilySpellstoneEmily and the Spellstone is a middle grade / middle school fantasy novel by Michael Rubins, one that could be the first of a series. The fantasy elements are layered over middle school angst, including bullying, and shared in an over-the-top style. 12-year-old Emily is having a tough time, after moving cross-country with her family. She misses her friends, doesn't like her new home, is ignored by her older sister and tormented by her six-year-old brother, and is bullied by mean girl Kristy. All of these problems fade into the background, however, when Emily discovers a mysterious stone device on the beach that turns out to be a powerful Stone. The Stone contains an enslaved demon-like creature who must become Emily's servant, but also attracts interest from an evil and powerful family living in another dimension. 

I found the fantasy elements of Emily and the Spellstone to be creative and tween-friendly.  The Stone is basically a magical cell phone, filled with apths that Emily could control, if she could understand them. There's a Librarian who understands magic (though she's not able to be a huge amount of help), and a surprisingly good-natured demonic creature. There are clone versions of Emily and her brother that are cooperative to the point of worrying everyone around them. It's all in good fun.

I could relate to Emily as an extremely reluctant heroine. Here's a snippet that tells you everything you need to know about her personality:

"Adventure, she had learned, was an adult code word that actually meant "disruption and discomfort and change," none of which Emily was partial to. Last year in school the students had had to create personal profiles. Under hobbies Emily put hibernating and collecting rocks. Hibernating because Emily's idea of an ideal evening was to wrap herself up in a cozy blanket and read a book (preferably one without too much adventure.) Collecting rocks because she had a vague affection for geology: it was for the most part stable and slow-moving and trustworthy and comforting." (Page 3)

I also quite liked Angela, the only person at her new school to befriend Emily:

"She was quiet, observant, serious. The sort of student of whom other students might say, Oh, right, her. What was her name again?" (Page 50) 

Rubens' understanding of middle school social dynamics seems apt, if hopefully slightly exaggerated. Similarly with Emily's relationship with her clueless parents and annoying siblings. Like this:

"Her sister sat in the third row of the minivan and listened to music, occasionally singing out loud in her off-key voice. Dougie sat next to Emily in the second row, sometimes poking her in the ribs to wake her up and once dipping his finger into his yogurt shake and then sticking his finger in her eat, until she screamed at him and her parents scolded her and ordered her to sit in the back row with Hilary." (Page 77)

In terms of the fantasy elements of the book, I especially appreciated the role of the library and the librarian. There's a secret bookshelf that is only noticed by kids (like Angela) who read a lot. I am certain that my 10-year-old self would have been looking for that bookshelf after reading Emily and the Spellstone

In truth, the voice of Emily and the Spellstone was a little over the top for me personally. But I think that for tweens the book provides a very nice blend of middle school concerns and epic fantasy adventure. Emily is a likable heroine who manages to grow in strength without changing her core personality as the book progresses. I think this one is well worth a look for elementary and middle school libraries. 

Publisher: Clarion Books (@HMHKids) 
Publication Date: June 13, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).


Growing Bookworms Newsletter: June 28: Summer Reading, Noticing Gender in Books, and Reading via Series

JRBPlogo-smallToday, I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on growing joyful learners, mainly bookworms, but also mathematicians and learners of all types. The newsletter is sent out every two to three weeks.

Newsletter Update:  In this issue I have four book reviews (picture books through young adult) and two posts with my daughter's latest literacy milestone (noticing gender imbalance of protagonists and reading in a treehouse). I also have two posts with links that I shared recently on Twitter, and one post with more in-depth quotes from two recent articles about the joy of reading. Oh, and if you would like something to read offline, I am quoted in an article about summer reading ideas for kids in the July print issue of Real Simple magazine. 

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I finished two middle grade, one young adult, and seven adult novels. My husband and daughter were away for a few days, so I got in some extra reading time, but I was more in the mood for grown-up mysteries than for children's / YA (probably because then I wouldn't feel the need to formally review). I read/listened to: 

  • Robert Beatty: Serafina and the Splintered Heart. Disney Hyperion. Middle Grade Fantasy. Completed June 16, 2017, print ARC. Review to come.
  • BabymouseLockerJennifer L. Holm (ill. Matthew Holm): Lights, Camera, Middle School! (Babymouse: Tales from the Locker, Book 1). Random House. Middle Grade Fiction. Completed June 17, 2017. Review to come. 
  • Laini Taylor: Strange the Dreamer. Little, Brown. YA Fantasy. Completed June 24, 2017. This book is classic Laini Taylor. It is beautifully written with exceptionally strong world-building and relatable characters. But it is also devastating. I read it in pretty much a single sitting (despite it being quite long) and yet I'm not sure I'll have the heart to read the sequel when it comes out... 
  • Elly Griffiths: The Chalk Pit (Ruth Galloway series). Houghton Mifflin. Adult Mystery. Completed June 14, 2017, on MP3. I adore this series more and more all the time. Highly recommended for mystery fans.
  • A. G. Riddle: Departure. Harper. Adult Speculative Fiction/Thriller. Completed June 18, 2017, on Kindle. I needed a page-turner one day, and this one fit the bill, with a plane crash and mysterious events that followed.
  • Tamni O'Dell: Angels Burning. Gallery Books. Adult Mystery. Completed June 18, 2017, on Kindle. This is a standalone mystery about a small-town police chief, with a highly nuanced portrayal of rural poverty and dysfunctional families. It was a good follow-up to my recent read of Hillbilly Elegy. 
  • CrimeFensJoy Ellis: Crime on the Fens (Nikki Galena, Book 1). Joffe Books. Adult Mystery. Completed June 20, 2017, on MP3. This is a new series for me featuring a UK detective with some serious personal demons. I didn't like Nikki at first, but she grew on me, such that I had to listen to the second book right away. 
  • Frances Brody: Dying in the Wool. Minotaur Books. Adult Mystery. Completed June 20, 2017, on Kindle. This is the first of a historical mystery series set in the years following World War I. The heroine sets herself up as a finder of missing people, after her husband goes missing (presumably permanently) in the war. 
  • Joy Ellis: Shadow on the Fens (Nikki Galena, Book 2). Joffe Books. Adult Mystery. Completed June 25, 2017, on MP3. I didn't like this one quite as much as the first, because I don't like plots that involve gaslighting. But the characters are growing on me, so I probably will give the third book a try. 
  • Brett Battles: Becoming Quinn. CreateSpace. Adult Thriller. Completed June 25, 2017, on Kindle. This is a prequel to a series about a man who is a "cleaner", as in, he disposes of bodies and associated evidence. He's an interesting character, and this look into how he ended up in the field was fascinating.

FenwayFoul-UpI'm currently reading The Deceived by Brett Battles (the second book in the Jonathan Quinn series) and listening to Knife Creek by Paul Doiron (Mike Bowditch series). My daughter and I are still reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire together, as we will be for a while. You can find her 2017 reading list here. She's got a number of series that she is reading on her own now: Ivy and Bean, Eerie Elementary, Fancy Nancy Clancy, Owl Diaries, Dr. KittyCat, and Ballpark Mysteries.

We had a productive visit to a used bookstore recently to fill in some titles that she "needed" before her trip. She's starting to officially define herself as a reader. An adult asked her the other day what she likes to do and she responded with "reading and karate." She had to wait for my husband to take her somewhere the other day and she entertained herself by reading picture books, so she hasn't abandoned those, happily. These are all little moments that make me happy about her development as a reader. 

Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms. Here's to lots more summer reading!

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook


#JoyOfLearning Links from @PernilleRipp + @Lisa_Westman: Nurturing a Love of Reading in Kids

JoyOFLearningLogoToday I would like to share quotes and my responses to two recent articles from teachers about nurturing a love of reading in kids. Although these articles are both technically aimed at educators, I think there are important messages for parents, too. Pernille Ripp calls for helping kids learn to love reading by letting them read books that are easy for them (while also encouraging them to develop their skills). Lisa Westman makes a similar point when she says that teachers should be focused on helping kids to love reading, rather than taking away the joy by making reading a chore.

In my own post about summer reading tips, I talked about how parents should let go of reading levels and just let kids read, and how they should give kids choice. These two recent post thus both resonated with me. If you are a parent reading this, I would suggest that you channel your energies towards making summer reading FUN for your kids. The rest will surely follow. 

PassionateLearnersMust-read for parents by | helping kids to become by supporting "easy" reads that they enjoy https://t.co/pXIMgN6t9f

Pernille Ripp: "A better reader is someone who sees reading as valuable.  Who recognizes the need to read because they will feel less than if they don’t.  Who sees reading as a necessity to learning, for themselves and not just for others. Who sees reading as a journey to be on, something worth investing in.  And so I wonder; when we tell children not to read easy books, how much of that individual reading identity journey do we dismiss?

Easy books, whether they be graphic novels, books below their actual comprehension skills, free verse, audio books, or even picture books, can get such a bad reputation in our schools... Yet these are the books that keep us loving reading.  That keeps us coming back.  Those books that we devour in one sitting because we must find out what happens next, aren’t those “easy” books for all of us?...

While our job, as educators, is to develop children who can read, our job is also to develop children who want to read. "

Me: I wish that all teachers could feel as Pernille Ripp does, that part of their job is to develop kids who want to read. I wish that all of the teachers who do feel this way could have the support and tools to make that happen. What I know is that as a reader, I absolutely choose books that are "easy" on one level or another much of the time. I don't get enough sleep these days for various reasons, and when I try to things that are dense, or that bore me even a little bit, I fall asleep. And then I don't get any reading done. And so, at least for now, I gravitate towards mysteries and page-turners. That is what's working for me right now. 

For my daughter, as I've said before, I feel that my job is to make sure that reading at home (and in the car, and on trips, and so on) is enjoyable for her. The more she enjoys it now, at seven, the better she'll be able to withstand the challenges to her life as a reader that I fear are coming (AR points, whole class reads of dry classics, reading logs). But in any case, Pernille's words give me hope. I would like to see many teachers and parents read them in full. 

Educators should cultivate a love of in to prevent  https://t.co/Wjrt67KBxW 

Lisa Westman: "If (as advertised) reading is the key to preventing the summer slide; the one thing all educators must do is curate a love of reading.

Unfortunately, however, we tend to do just the opposite and systemize reading. For many students, reading is seen as a chore, a measure of compliance, or worse, something it is ok to "lie" about (read more about this here or here).

With this in mind, it is no wonder that students choose to not read in the summer. They need a break because reading feels strenuous and stressful." (Click through for Lisa Westman's suggestions for what teachers should do instead to curate a love of reading). 

Me: This article is about how teachers can better prepare kids NOT to regress so much in their learning over the summer. The reading section is only one part of it, together with thoughts on building awareness so that kids can synthesize learning from different sources and incorrectly using assessment. But of course it was the reading part that resonated for me. While the author's point in this regard is that teachers should do more to nurture a love of reading in kids (and I certainly agree), I think this is another reminder for parents to keep reading fun, and avoid anything that makes reading feel like a chore. 

I do keep a log of what my daughter reads, for example. Just a simple paper list, which I use to write down the titles so that I can then track them on my blog. My daughter used to enjoy writing the books down herself, but this seems to have gotten old. So, no problem. I write them down myself, sometimes having to dig out the books from the back seat of the car to see which ones she has finished. My job is to keep the fun books coming, and to know what she needs next in this week's series of interest. Her job is just to read. And if she tires of a series and wants to read something else, of course that's fine, too. Reading at home, especially during the summer, should be guilt-free, stress-free, and fun. That is all. 

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This post may contain affiliate links. 


Into the Hurricane: Neil Connelly

Book: Into the Hurricane
Author: Neil Connelly
Pages: 240
Age Range: 12 and up

IntoTheHurricaneInto the Hurricane by Neil Connelly is the story of two troubled teenagers who meet  in a lighthouse on Shackles Island, Louisiana as a major hurricane looms. Green-haired Max has absconded from New Jersey with her father's ashes, planning to release them at the lighthouse. Local boy Eli is haunted and berated by the ghost of his dead sister, Celeste, and is considering killing himself to end the visions. Things don't go as planned for either teen when they encounter first a violent backwoods family/borderline religious cult and second, Hurricane Celeste. 

Into the Hurricane is a survival story, full of perils and twists. But it's also a character study into two damaged kids, and a look at the redemptive power of second chances. Into the Hurricane is told in alternating chapters from Eli's first-person viewpoint and Max's limited third-person viewpoint. I suspect that this format would work well as an audiobook with two narrators, especially given the different regional accents of the two characters. 

It's not clear whether Eli's sister's ghost actually appears to him, or whether (as seems more likely), her presence is a manifestation of his guilt over his role in her death. The circumstances of this death are a mystery revealed only slowly through the course of the book. Max's relationship with her stepmother, though less dramatic, is also revealed gradually. Both teens are working on understanding themselves, even as they seek to understand each other. 

Connelly's bio says that he "weathered five hurricanes in Lake Charles, Louisiana" and this authenticity of viewpoint does come across in his representation of the storm. Details about the wind and waves, and the storm's destruction, fill the book. Here's a snippet, from Eli's viewpoint:

"The wind picks up, just a bit, like the storm's decided I'm worth noticing again, a genuine threat to the way she wants things to be. I clutch the metal, press my body and face into the beam. She's pulling at me good now, blowing at me from the front and sucking from behind. I close my eyes and think what Sweeney said before ended that deer's suffering. When a thing has got to be done, it's best to get on and do it." (Page 110-111)

My favorite quote in the book is this one (with an ellipsis to remove spoilers):

"Maybe the Shacks just makes people crazy. Chemicals in the air, some ancient voodoo curse. But when I think about the kind of folks who live out here--the Odenkirks (backwoods family), Sweeney (quirky local veteran), me--there's hardly a sane one in the bunch. So maybe back when she lived in New Jersey, Max was something like normal. Or at least as normal as a girl with green hair can be. Whatever the case may be, this thing she's doing now..., that's certifiably insane. So make no doubt about it. She's one of us now." (Page 172)

I like this quote because it captures the fact that none of the characters in the book are exactly stable. But they all fit together, with the hurricane, to form an intriguing story. Into the Hurricane is a great pick for those who enjoy survival and natural disaster type stories, but it's more than that, too. Max and Eli, facing the storm, undergo a tremendous amount of personal growth in a short period of time, in a plausible manner. I recommend Into the Hurricane for anyone who enjoys suspenseful young adult fiction or books that make readers think. And shouldn't that be just about anyone? Into the Hurricane is well worth a look, and has a great cover.  

Publisher: Scholastic (@Scholastic
Publication Date: June 27, 2017
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2017 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).